Christian Iconography: Fra Angelico, Annunciation

You might also want to check out Christian Iconography: The Basics.

Here is a lovely Annunciation by Fra Angelico, from the Friary of San Marco in Florence:

This is one of a set of frescoes, one in each cell in the friary, depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin painted in the early 15th century. The cells are tiny little rooms, where a Dominican friar would retire for solitude and sleep. Fra Angelico’s frescoes were meant as aides to the friar’s meditations, so a Dominican is depicted as an observer in each image. It would be interesting to know how, over the years, the various friars were assigned to each cell, as some cells have  cheery images like this Annunciation, while others depict scenes from Christ’s agony – was it random? Did the prior decide that Brother Matthew needed to spend some time praying over the Disposition of Christ’s Body, and so he was assigned that cell, while Brother John needed to lighten up, so he got the Nativity? Continue reading “Christian Iconography: Fra Angelico, Annunciation”


Finding Your Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was executed in 1606 for conspiring to blow up Parliament, intending thereby to kill the King and the House of Lords, with the goal of replacing James as monarch with his Catholic daughter.

Henry VIII had declared that he was the head of the Church in England in 1534.  From 1534 up until 1606 and beyond, hundreds of men and women were killed for the crime of being Catholic, often hung, drawn and quartered, after having been tortured over the course of days or weeks.

The English had a PR problem that Fawkes went a long way toward solving – the vast majority of Catholics they were executing were people like Thomas More, John Fisher and Margaret Clitherow, people who weren’t crazy, weren’t violent, weren’t traitors in any usual sense and were vastly more sympathetic and believable than Henry or his successors.  Much better to have a guy like Guy, who was easy to portray as a traitor, foreign agent, and violent lunatic – the kind of man it seems almost appropriate to execute in a painful, gruesome and long fashion – rip the entrails out of still-living body, cut off and burn his genitals before his living eyes, tear his body to pieces  – typical of the urbane, sophisticated behavior for which the English are so famous.

Today, I’m thinking about how at least some of us do learn from history – Guy Fawkes enabled the English to enforce their anti-Catholic laws to the fullest, for a while at least.  They got a lot more public sympathy – blowing up Parliament and killing a roomful of people including the King crossed a whole bunch of lines, I’m sure. The Gunpowder Plot allowed for much more vigorous anti-Catholicism, and drained away support for Catholics from what I suppose we should call the Moderates of the era.

So, today, people in favor of getting the government to do their dirty work are always on the lookout for a Fawkes, someone who can be portrayed as crossing too many lines, who can stand in the place of the many people who condemn the Fawkes’ actions but do agree with or are sympathetic to beliefs that motivated, or at least can be plausibly said to have motivated, this Fawkes’ outrageous behavior . With 300 million Americans, no matter what kind of Fawkes you want, you won’t have to wait long.

Finally! Stem Cells Save Social Lives!

Hurray! Stem cell therapy might cure baldness! Of course, they’re talking about activating the stem cells already present in a man’s scalp, not adding stem cells from another source, so this has no bearing on embryonic stem cell research, a point that will be steamrolled in 3… 2… 1….

Disclosure: I’m bald. I can’t imagine lifting a finger to do anything about it. To me, the weirdness of having my hair grow back after having noticeably been absent for the past decade would far outweigh whatever the theoretical benefits. Are my friends and family going to love me better with hair? If so, maybe I should stop worrying about my mop and start worrying about the quality of my interpersonal relationships.  The only exception I can think of is if I needed to get a job – then, looking a little younger might make some tactical sense. But if I grew hair to get a job, I’d do it grudgingly.

But, clearly, this is big news – just like Viagra and its, if you’ll excuse the expression, offspring have spawned (just can’t stop!)  an entire industry of solving a problem that, in the vast majority of cases, is NOT a medical problem, so this ‘cure’ for baldness will, in the frankly unlikely case that it actually works, enrich big pharm by addressing the baldness crisis that now besets our great nation. If only our men, and, one supposes, women, had the virile, lion-like manes that it is our  sacred right to possess, well, I’m sure World Peace would break out like the measles all over the world’s pasty behind! At the very least!

And think of the pranks! No longer would frat boys be limited to writing on their passed-out brothers – they could cream ’em up, spell out words in hair on awkward parts of their anatomy. Hilarity is sure to ensue, and who doesn’t need some hilarity in this vale of tears?

Adventures in Medicine

Two notes:

1. Unless your problem is pretty straight forward, like, say, a piece of rebar protruding from your chest,  DON’T mention it to the doctor. He will send you in for tests. You may come out alive, but your dignity will not survive. And let’s not even talk about money.

2. Speaking of money: I saw four no doubt well-compensated (as they should be) health professionals in the room while the doctor administered the tests using an array of fancy equipment. These professionals handled everything from hooking up tubes and needles (I want the people poking me to have attended Needle Poking School and to have taken lots of tests involving making cadavers look like cheesecloth) to putting my personal items in a plastic bag.

Having gotten vocational training as a finance guy, I quickly figured that these tests were going to run well north of a grand, and maybe a lot more, just based on paying the pros in the room and overhead for all that fancy equipment and the nice hospital to put it in.  You want good health care? You want well compensated, well trained pros to handle the injecting, inspecting and rejecting? OK, but it’s gonna cost ya.

Conclusion: unless you’re actively hemorrhaging right there in the doctors office, figure it’ll heal if you just ignore it for another couple months, and avoid forays into the medical establishment. How could it hurt?

Irrational Anger, Motherhood & School

We, wild and crazy kids that we were at the time, decided to go the ‘family bed’ route with our kids. We started off for a day or two after the arrival of our first born trying to get him to sleep in a cradle, with generally poor results. We didn’t have any philosophical problems with sleeping with us, my wife needed some sleep, so: kid sleeps in the bed with us.

We were not shaking our fists at the establishment or getting up in people’s faces with a radical statement or anything. Yet, the response was nuts – we’d get sent ‘studies’ showing that we were practically murdering our child by increasing his chances of SIDS from something like .008% to something like .009%.  I tried to point out the flaws in the studies (basically, if you don’t distinguish between sane, stable, sober parents and insane, unstable, stoned parents, you’re, I don’t know, missing some key data) and tried to point out that, even if the studies are valid, the difference is so small as to be meaningless – we’re talking a risk in the neighborhood of lightening strikes and shark attacks.  Nope, all this was trumped by  their parents never having allowed this, and their pediatrician saying not to do it.

You’ll be no doubt shocked to learn that all 5 of our kids survived sleeping in our bed. We never came close to rolling over on them and smothering them – see, it’s your *baby* there in the bed, if you’re not drunk or insane every natural instinct makes you very attuned to him. A baby is not like a pillow you’d forget is there. But their mere happy survival, along with the happy survival of the other billions of babies that slept with their parents, is no excuse for the terrible risks we subjected them to.

Anyway, now we get to live the whole experience again, because we decided that we weren’t going to send our kids to traditional classroom school.  Not only that, but we were going to subject them to a educational philosophy called Real Life. In Real Life, the most important thing to learn is how to get along with others – how to listen, speak, trust, be wary, work together, work around, stand up for yourself and be compassionate to others. Mastering these skills does in fact take a decade or more. Mastering reading, writing and basic math takes a few months.

So, we chose a school where social interaction and responsibility were the key. The family bed part: in order to promote responsibility and social interaction, you have to get rid of all the mandatory classes and ruler/ruled dynamics – in other words, no age segregation, no classes, no teacher-makes-the-rules structures. Oh, sure, there’s plenty of room and help for kids, when they decide they want to learn to read or write or do math (nobody yet has attended our school for any length of time and failed to learn these things – it’s hard to play video games if you can’t read the instructions and figure out how much gold you’ll need to buy the health points and power-ups required to beat the boss, for example).

The funny part here, to me, is that, at *home*, our kids are expected to help out, and do. They also volunteer to help out at church, and take a variety of lessons. In those  situations – Real Life – they are subject to other people’s authority and follow instructions.  Our kids spend  roughly 20 hours a week in structured situations under someone else’s authority – they hardly need another 30 hours/week of schooling to learn about working in structures and under authority.

Finally, just as our babies survived the family bed to become toddlers and kids, our older kids – 19 and 17 – are in college. Whatever we did has objectively ‘worked’ – if K-12 is supposed to prepare kids for college, then whatever we did achieved the same objective as K-12, only with a tiny % of the investment of time and energy in ‘academics’. The dirty little secret: if you want to do it and haven’t been beaten up and humiliated into thinking you’re stupid, you can learn to read in a few weeks; you can learn basic math in a couple months; you can learn to write acceptable essays in a semester, tops.

So, yea, I guess maybe I can see being angry with people like me – if I’d wasted 13 years of my kid’s life on school, and thousands of hours of my life worrying about their homework and studying, only to find out that there are people out there – many thousands of them – who skipped all that pain and simply passed ‘Go’ and collected their $200 – yea, that could be upsetting.

See? The Economy is Getting Better for Some People…

Here, for example. If you just follow these simple steps, you, too, can profit even in these tough times:

1. Get born into a well-connected family. Alternatively, you could be really smart and work really hard, but that’s the hard, risky way to do it;

2. Make friends with the people who have all the money;

3. Get those folks to give you a job at a nice financial firm – Goldman Sachs would be best, but other firms can also be useful.

4. Prove your worth by never, ever, Ever, EVER doing ANYTHING that might hurt people who already have money.

5. When it’s one of your coworker’s turns to run the Treasury Dept or the Federal Reserve, get a job with them working for the government.

6. ‘Lobbying’ is such a dirty word, and illegal while you’re pulling a government paycheck, so, instead, just represent the interests of the .01% of your constituents who happen to run Goldman Sachs and other huge finance companies, and they’ll do what they can, hiring you to consult or give speeches for a million or so a year, so that don’t have to struggle by on the $160K+ bennies that the Government pays you until it’s your turn to go back to Wall Street. Then, you’ll get your cut of the billions of taxpayer dollars it’s your current job to make sure get sent there.  Oh, and ‘bribery’ is an even dirtier and more illegal term, so we’ll just agree not to ever use it.

See? What’s so hard about that? It’s a good thing our President is cutting back on this practice by appointing Wall Street guys to hire other Wall Street guys who will eventually return to their Wall Street jobs after directing the government’s efforts to, you know, reign in Wall Street’s overly cozy and highly profitable relationship with the government by making sure billions of bail-out dollars go to Goldman Sachs so that they can pay out billions in bonuses.

That should work! What could go wrong?

A Contemporary Education Success Story – Pardada Pardadi School in India

See this article from NPR for the details.

Basic story: Sam Singh is an Indian executive with DuPont, who, at age 60, took half a million dollars of his own money and returned to his ancestral homelands in northern India – and founded a girl’s school on land from his family’s ancient feudal estate. Girls and women are traditionally and routinely mistreated in this impoverished area. Mr. Singh wanted to break this cycle – thus, his school.

The girls learn how to become economically independent, and tend to delay marriage in order to do so. Now, economically valuable and independent of their family, they can free themselves from the cycle of abuse.

So, who can argue with this story? Who doesn’t want girls and women to be treated well? So, Sam Singh is rightly honored for his altruism.

But there’s a more general and problematic facet exemplified by this story: Sam Singh, by providing this school, is trying to kill an existing culture and replace it with one he likes better. In this case, we can all agree that a culture of cruelty and abuse toward women deserves to die, and so we don’t mourn it. Small price to pay for progress, etc. In general, all schooling aims to either support and reinforce an existing culture (religious schools, rural one room schools) or it aims to destroy an existing culture and replace it with something else.  Continue reading “A Contemporary Education Success Story – Pardada Pardadi School in India”